Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Critical Thinking for the Christian

Christian Critical Thinking
 Constructing an Argument Series

April 11, 2007

This series will cover the basics of how an argument is constructed through a logical process. We will also cover some basic critical thinking concepts and the common fallacies that occur due to illogical or inconsistencies. The goal of this article is to help the Christian (whether new or semipermanent) construct and analyze an argument. To keep this article balanced I will be quoting from sources both inside and outside of Christianity. However the article will be constructed with a Christian epistemology viewpoint.

The sources of this work derives from “Prentice Hall Handbook for Writers” by Melinda G. Kramer, Glenn H. Leggett, and C. David Mead, “A Practical Guide to Critical Thinking”, by Greg R. HaskinsHow to Lie with Statistics” by Darrell Huff, Introduction to Theology Notebook and Trinitarianism Notebook by The Theology Program, Practical Logic, by Vincent E. Barry, Douglas J. Soccio,  and “Innumeracy: Mathematical Illiteracy and Its Consequences” by John Allen Paulos

We will begin with the process of Critical Thinking but before we get started lets discuss a few misconceptions about the critical thinking process.

Critical Thinking (CT):
  • Is it more than just thinking logically or analytically, it also means thinking rationally or objectively.
  • Is part of logical analysis stemming from philosophical mathematical concepts
  • Is thinking rationally and objectively that invokes broader concepts that implore psychology and sociology
  • Is more than thinking logically or analytically
  • Is NOT necessarily used for finding faults or thinking negatively
  • Is distinct from ones values and principles, not necessarily to think alike or have similar values amongst a group of people
  • Does not change who you are
  • Does not discourage or replace feelings or emotive thinking
  • Does not blindly support everything based upon science or empirical data
  • (CT) Arguments are not always the most persuasive arguments
  • Is an informal application of logic
  • Is a process

The Process

The process of critical thinking involves intelligence, knowledge to read objective and rationale viewpoints. It should also be noted that some of the greatest intelligent minds can succumb to irrational beliefs; any number of these beliefs can be illogical, be apt to innumeracy, or merely fall into the confines of pseudoscience. Before we delve into any examples of these abominable notions, we will need to cover a few basic constructs of critical thinking.

In the simplified model of the human understanding shown below, we have a 4-step process.

 (Illustration from “A Practical Guide to Critical Thinking”, by Greg R. Haskins)

Graphic from Greg R. Haskins’ article

1.      Reality is something that exists, whether we choose to believe it or not (objectively). We can simply deny reality, but denial is simply a reaction or the act of refusing to comply or asserting that something alleged is not true. Reality can be defined as all of your experiences that determine how things appear to you, or the state of the world as it really is rather than as you might want it to be. (see Correspondence view of truth)

2.      Perception is the process of perceiving; a basic component in the formation of a concept or simply knowledge gained by perceiving. In other words, it is the experience of reality first hand. The word “experience” can be is used as a noun (direct observation or participation in an event), or as a verb (Have firsthand knowledge of states, situations, emotions, or sensations).

3.      Thinking Process is how we process information or data according to our worldview, emotions (see Figure 1. 3a and 3b), presuppositions, or pre-understandings. If we study some of the common logical fallacies we can be less apt to make any irrational or illogical conclusions. (We will cover these later).

4.      Conclusions are the ratiocinations that we base our actions or final judgments upon. Again this will depend upon our worldview, emotion, presuppositions, or pre-understandings. This is typically what we see as jury decisions in the courtroom. (see Moral Proof)

Greg R. Haskins Writes:
“Critical thinking is more than thinking logically or analytically; it also means thinking rationally or objectively. There is an important distinction. Logic and analysis are essentially philosophical and mathematical concepts, whereas thinking rationally and objectively are broader concepts that also embody the fields of psychology and sociology. These latter two areas address the complex effects of human behavior (e.g., hindrances) on our thinking processes.”[1]

Intelligence Quotient
Before we delve too far into the critical thinking series, I thought it would be pertinent to speak about the Intelligence Quotient. There are many myths or false-hoods widely spread about IQ and its true meanings. Some skeptics may lay incredulous claims that IQ determines knowledge, insight, or even wisdom. Some have also bolstered some highly irrational statements (assaults if you will) against those having a theistic worldview (e.g. Christians, Jews, and Muslims) claiming that a theistic mindset has an IQ below 100. For the record, an IQ number, gasconaded without any specifics of which test were professionally administered, is equivalent to wildly faceted enthymeme.[2]
Some Professional IQ tests:
·         Stanford-Binet
·         Cattell IIIB
·         Raven’s Advanced Progressive Matrices
·         Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale
·         Otis-Lennon Tests
·         Otis-Gamma Test
·         Cattell
·         Reynolds Intellectual Assessment Scales
·         Army or Navy GCT

What is IQ?
“Intelligence is often confused with knowledge, wisdom, memory, or a myriad of other attributes and in general has a variety of meanings depending on the context in which it is used. The term IQ usually refers to the attempt to measure a person's mental agility.”[3]

Our current Western civilization view of Truth

Postmodernism is (broadly speaking) a movement in modern western society that devalues truth, believing all truth is relative. This is the “that is true for you but not for me mantra”. Postmodernism has is values in some instances, but we need to be careful when trying to apply this ideology for everyday life as it can hinder our ability to find objective truth. The Postmodern mindset is one that can be critical, but concurrently, it is not a concept that one lives out in an everyday modus Vivendi, or lifestyle. As Christians, we strive to search for objective truths; however, some may disagree with this motto. Nevertheless, truth exists, and moral proof is the rational process by which we base most of our daily decisions. Notwithstanding, this does not mean that Christians are not prone to make incorrect decisions or judgments.

For some of you this terminology may be indecipherable, or perhaps you have not been exposed to postmodernism. Therefore, let us distinguish the Postmodern vs. the Modern view of truth. I would like to touch on this subject briefly as it will most definitely become a factor on how we define truth within critical thinking, or how our opponent may view truth. Primarily, we will need to achieve a healthy balance between two extremities of these views. From an equalitarian viewpoint, the Postmodernist should not become too dogmatic about there being no truths (or absolutes) nor does the Modernist believe truth (absolutes) without clearly defining or articulating their claims.

When defining the term absolute in the form of a noun we can ascertain that there are absolutes. (i.e. God, Nature, natural deaths are absolutes)

An absolute can be defined as:
Noun, Absolute:
1.      Something that is conceived to be absolute; something that does not depend on anything else and is beyond human control

Adjective, Absolute:
1.      Perfect or complete or pure
2.      Complete and without restriction or qualification; sometimes used informally as intensifiers
3.      Not limited by law
4.      Expressing finality with no implication of possible change
5.      Without conditions or limitations
6.      Not capable of being violated or infringed[4]

Of course defining the term “absolute” in an adjective form, we can discover that a postmodern view may seem to carry some weight, although marginally. From the postmodern mindset, it would be imperative to become quite descriptive in our arguments and terms for them to fully grasp our thought process.

Let me give you a quick example of innumeracy that may bring to light some postmodern vs. modern thinking patterns.

  1. mathematics is a form of an absolute
  2. Addition is a form of mathematics
  3. Therefore absolutely 1+1=2

However, let’s use an example (clearly define the terms) of this argument to see if it is always correct using a critical thinking mindset.

1 cup of water plus 1 cup of popcorn = 2 cups of soggy popcorn?

Our conclusion is that this syllogism (1+1=2) is not always an absolute if we do not clearly define the terms.” This is a statement that most Postmodernists would agree with. However, if we use “same or exact substances” like this example shown below (using mathematics as it should be implied or defined by our term “exact substances”):

1 cup of water plus 1 cup of water = 2 cups of water

We see that 1+1 can be equal to 2 but not always; this is where we need to break from oversimplification and define or articulate our terms to make them absolved in our syllogisms. It would be deemed as common knowledge, that we need one of the same or similar equal substances added together to equal two. Common knowledge is something that is widely accepted or held, and can be used as a positive syllogism. It is also commonplace to accept a dictionary definition of a word if used properly in context with the authorial intent, unless specified otherwise by the author. Let us move on to one more example of innumeracy.

Sometimes a skeptic defines the concept of the Christian Trinity as an illogical concept using a mathematical concept (1+1+1=3) and God is one (Shema). Therefore, the Trinity is illogical or false. Here is how a typical syllogism is constructed.

Anti-Trinitarianism Syllogism:
1.      God is one
2.      God is not three gods, because one is not equal to three
3.      Therefore the Trinity is false

A Trinitarian response:
While the Trinity is defined as One Father, One Son, and One Holy Spirit, the three are distinct—not the same person (as a scenario of 3 cups of liquid, but not exactly 3 cups of the same liquids). We define them as co-equal and co-eternal in subsistence which is the state of existing in reality; having substance. Therefore the concept of 1 Father +1 Son +1 Holy Spirit is not equal to three gods (or as defined by Tritheism or some skeptics), but one God-head. Trinitarians do not define the three as separate gods, but making up one God (Trinity). The Trinity is very logical, just as 1 cup of water and 1 cup of popcorn do not equal 2 cups of soggy popcorn analogy we used in our previous example of innumeracy.

The Trinitarian may construct an argument as:

Trinitarianism Syllogism:
1.      God is One (Shema)
2.      God is The Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit
3.      The three are distinct, not the same person (not as suggested by modalism)
4.      Therefore the three are one (Shema—ehad—Husband and wife become one flesh).

Once we define our terms clearly, as we did in the popcorn and water analogy, we find that Trinity is defined as three personhoods considered as a unit, just like Alex, Geddy, and Neil make up the rock band “Rush”. This is due to the fact of the distinct nature of the Triune God. It is important in how we define our nomenclature as Trinitarians, not so much as calling them gods, but the three as one God. The focus is on these terms that keep us distinct from holding a Tritheism view. (We will cover this more in detail in the study of Trinitarianism)

Various Views of Truth

Now returning to the various views of truth discussion, the Postmodernist view (circa 1960-present) could also be shared to a degree with some religions. Here are a few examples that we find in our postmodern society today:

Universalism: The belief that all people, good or bad, will eventually make it to Heaven
Pluralism: The belief that there are many ways to God, those being equally valid
Syncretism: The assimilation of differing beliefs and practices
Inclusivism: The belief that salvation is only through Christ, but Christ may be revealed in other religions

Pluralism and Universalism is only valid if the law of non-contradiction is an invalid precept. Syncretism does have some rationale, but remember that Jesus stated that “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me”. (John 14:6) This statement by Jesus is an example of inclusivism; however, we rest in the assurance that Jesus is correct in his statement not that Christ is revealed in other religions. This is because this could be self-defeating on the other religions part if they disagree with Christ’s statement in John 14:6.

What is a relative view of Truth?

Relative view of truth: (1) Truth is a perspective reality that exists in the perspective of the individual or group, (2) and that perspective reality is grounded in time. (Postmodernism view--Law of non-contradiction may not apply)

For the Modernists (circa 1600-1900AD) the view of truth can be defined as:

Correspondence view of truth: (1) Truth is an objective reality that exists whether someone believes it or not, (2) and that objective reality is grounded in nature. (Modern view--Law of non-contradiction is valid)[5]

Logic Induction and deduction

Now that we have covered some of the views of truth, we can move forward to how we apply logic to the critical thinking process. Logic can be broken down into either induction or deduction. Let us look at how the terms are defined in the Practical Logic book:

Vincent E. Barry, Douglas J. Soccio writes:
“The reasoning process that leads to logical certainty is called deduction. A deductive (reasoning for the general to the specific) argument is an argument whose premises, it is determined, logically entail its conclusion. With induction (highly probable, never logically certain), our conclusions are at best highly probable, never certain. Validity has nothing to do with empirical truth, although “soundness” does. Deductive argument that is sound is one that is true and valid.”[6] [Emphasis mine]

Critical thinking is defined as an informal form of logic. A deductive argument can be implied as one thing that necessarily follows from another. The product “A” is true; therefore, the product “B” will follow. Here is an example:
1.      American Presidents are males (Premise “A”)
2.      No woman has ever been elected as President (qualifier)
3.      Therefore all elected Presidents are males (Conclusion “B”)

This deductive reasoning is common knowledge that is implied by all Americans. This is not to say that a woman will never be elected as President—thus far, it has not materialized. Of course, due to our modern feminization of America, someone could take this syllogism out of context and use it in a negative manner, although the authorial intent is displaying this as a positive event that could change over time.
It should be noted that a syllogism (logical construct) is only the beginning to a discussion. This will determine if we can further move onto constructing a true premise, nothing more. In some cases within a syllogism, a law, common knowledge (widely accepted), and so forth, the case could be well enough to stand on its own merit if the premise is truly represented and is indeed truthful. Just as our syllogism of American Presidents as males, historically this would be accurate until a female is elected as President. We will cover more on the inductive and deductive constructs later in this critical thinking series.


Deductive reasoning is narrower (compared to induction) in nature and is concerned with testing or confirming hypotheses. In the deduction process, we start with a theory for our argument or discussion. We then move down to specific hypothesis that we can test. Next, we would collect observations to address the hypotheses. In the end, this would lead to a test of the hypotheses with specific data -- cogent evidence (or falsify) of our pilot theory. (See diagram below)
Deductive process diagram (courtesy of Defending Christ Ministries)


Inductive reasoning goes from specific observations to less specific generalizations and theories. Inductive reasoning is considered less restricted and exploratory, especially in commencement. In inductive reasoning, begins with specific observations and measures. Next, we commence to detect patterns and regularities, in which we can articulate some tentative hypotheses for research, in which we can develop some general conclusions or theories. Note that this is the reverse order of deductive process (see diagram below).

Inductive process diagram (courtesy of Defending Christ Ministries)


How do we deal with uncertainty? Do we become as static as Bill Murray does in the film “What About Bob”?[7] Of course not, because we would define someone like Bill Murray’s character as insane or espousing irrational behavior. So in essence, we can be certain enough to make rational choices, and still hold some things in tension or to a degree of uncertainty. An example is the belief that we will wake up tomorrow morning and the sun will shine, we will be alive, and time will not stop but knowing that each day could be our last. We do not live in fear simply because we know that we have a rational belief in the certainty of tomorrow, it is our faith in tomorrow that pushes us to move forward. Now let us define the types of certainty:

Types of Certainty
1. Mathematical certainty (scientific method)
2. Empirical certainty (weight of evidences)
3. Logical certainty (what is reasonable)
4. Moral certainty (what is demanded)

What types of proof can we use to define our arguments?

Types of Proof
1. Mathematical proof (true by analysis)
2. Logical proof (what is reasonable)
3. Empirical proof (scientific method/observable data)
4. Moral proof (what is demanded based on the compelling conclusions of the evidences)

Mathematical Proof: Proof that a mathematical concept or law is valid by proven repeatability (note in our earlier syllogism we need to clearly define our terms).

Logical Proof: Proof that is deduced through deductive logic. In Christianity, the ontological and cosmological arguments would be classified as logical proof for God’s existence.

Empirical Proof: Proof that is induced through the weight of evidences. In Christianity, the teleological and moral arguments would be classified as empirical proof for the existence of God.

Moral Proof: Proof that is demanded by the weight of the cumulative evidence. A person is morally obligated to submit to it. (e.g. typical courtroom decisions)

To be continued later...


[1] Greg R. Haskins “A Practical Guide to Critical Thinking”
[2] Enthymeme is an argument in which a premise or conclusion is suppressed or missing.
[3] definition of IQ
[4] WordWeb Dictionary:
[5] Intro To Theology Handbook pg 67
[6] “Practical Logic” by Barry, Soccio